First things first: Nobody makes it into the pros by being a bad athlete. Well, David Wells made it into the pros, and so did Bartolo Colon, but baseball is a different planet as far as athleticism is concerned.
The guys we're talking about here aren't bad athletes, at least in the traditional sense. They're doubtlessly a zillion times more athletic than any of us laypeople. But you can't tell me that when the San Francisco Giants agreed to pay Barry Zito $126 million over seven years, he'd be...what he is.
Or that when Derek Anderson essentially robbed both the Cleveland Browns and the Arizona Cardinals on two separate occasions, he would end up being one of football's biggest punchlines.
Could these guys—every single one of them—dominate any of us in any test of physical exertion? Absolutely.
But that doesn't mean they're worth millions of dollars.
Given the Yankees' rather inauspicious start to the 2013 baseball season, it's only fitting for us to start with a player who is quickly spiraling into bust territory for them.
When Mark Teixeira hit the free-agent market several years ago, general managers across the league rejoiced. They daydreamed of zillions of home runs and almost as many rings.
And yet here we are, coming up on our fifth season of Tex's Yankee life, and the Bronx Bombers have managed to snag just a single ring since he's been there—and he barely had any impact on them getting it. That certainly wasn't the expectation when he inked an eight-year, $180 million contract with New York back in 2009.
Sure, it's easy to complain that the Yankees have won just one World Series in the Teixeira era. Plenty of clubs would kill to have one ring in the last four years. But when you acquire one of the best power hitters in the league, you don't really expect him to hit a combined .263 over four years with little to no postseason success.
He seems to be happy, though. At least he's getting paid.
In the grand scheme of life, Tony Romo isn't bad at football. Yes, Mark Sanchez has taken the heat off him a little bit by embarrassing himself in even more dramatic fashion over the last couple of years, but in the grand scheme of Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks, Romo hasn't exactly been stellar.
After his first few seasons, many of us expected him to be. He had two seasons of 11 or more wins and helped put the Cowboys in the position to make a couple of solid playoff runs. Except...those playoff runs never happened. No matter how good people expected them to be, the Cowboys always flopped—often because of Romo.
In the three seasons since, he has gone a combined 17-21. The Cowboys have faded way into the background in the NFC East. And yet, he was just rewarded with a lucrative six-year, $108 million extension. For an under-.500 record.
So now, even if he goes 8-8 again, or 9-7, he's meeting expectations. If he wins 10 or 11 games, he'll probably get another raise. Meanwhile, if Tom Brady or Peyton Manning won a mere nine games, they'd practically be guillotined.
Must be nice.
In Barry Zito's defense, the San Francisco Giants have won two World Series since he's been there. Not that it had anything to do with him.
And furthermore, most of the free world recognized that giving a seven-year, $126 million contract to a pitcher who had been inconsistent at best and wildly overrated at worst was a mistake. Therefore, there weren't that many people who were surprised when he proceeded to register a .457 winning percentage and a 4.47 ERA over the next five seasons.
If you can get paid like an ace for being a No. 4 or 5 starter, why not just shrug and accept it?
Zito has had flashes of brilliance. One of them came in 2002, when he won the Cy Young (though we all know Pedro should have). He went a good-enough 15-8 last year. But you know your expectations are low when you celebrate the fact that your third highest paid player finishes the season with an ERA under five.
Let's be clear: A player shouldn't be penalized for having one or two really good seasons, even if it doesn't last.
Joba Chamberlain had those seasons right out of the gates. Then, he became a headcase and the Yankees quickly realized they couldn't rely on him to be any meaningful part of their pitching staff in the future.
When Chamberlain debuted, he made the rest of the AL East quake in fear. He was virtually unhittable, and he seemed like he possessed the necessary Yankee swagger to become a force for the next 15 years to come. There was even talk of him possibly being the next Mariano Rivera.
Then, reality set in and it became clear Chamberlain did not have the stamina—mentally or physically—to be that guy for New York. And yet, he still has a job. And yet, the coaching staff still has enough faith in him to pay him money—almost $2 million, to be exact.
If one of the most storied franchises in baseball wanted to pay me $2 million to be an unreliable reliever, I would be pretty happy about it.
It may be hard to believe that Derek Anderson still has a job. But believe it.
It is also hard to believe that a player who seems to be so resoundingly ordinary has managed to make a somewhat lucrative career for himself in the NFL. When you think about all of the great football players who are out of a job, how is Anderson one of the select few who persevered?
In college, he was OK, but he wasn't a superstar. His Oregon teams never had great records, but he established himself as a competent option and was drafted in the sixth round in 2005 before being waived almost immediately.
Since then, he has had one good season as a starter. One. He went 10-6 with the Browns in 2007. Aside from that year, he has a 8-20 overall record, yet he has still made millions of dollars with the Browns and the Cardinals. Last year, he only played in two games and still managed to leverage that into a one-year deal worth almost a million dollars in 2013.
If nothing else, Anderson made the most out of very little. You have to admire him for that.
For a while, it seemed like Jason Bay had it made. He was an underrated star on a terrible team, he was traded to one of the best franchises in baseball to replace a miserable slugger, and he managed to fit in seamlessly, helping said team stay afloat in an ultra-competitive division.
After he was traded from Pittsburgh to Boston in 2008 and established himself as a serious offensive asset, Bay did what any good businessman would do: He followed the money. Boston wasn't willing to pay him like the hitter he thought he was, so he went to the poor team who would bite. And the Mets have been paying for it ever since. Literally.
It must be nice to hit under .200 and still get paid over $18 million.
When Bay left Boston for New York, his numbers quickly dropped off, and the Mets almost immediately regretted agreeing to pay him $66 million over four years. Of course, he didn't last those four years: The Mets got so fed up with his terrible numbers that in November 2012, they let him walk, even if it meant they were still on the hook for over $18 million in 2013.
Meanwhile, Bay is now dancing off into the Seattle sunset.
When you sign Kris Humphries to a long-term contract, you are assuming a lot of risk. Part of that entails the understanding that he cannot be expected to behave in public. Another part of that entails the acknowledgement that nobody would even know his name if it wasn't for a botched marriage attempt.
Is Humphries bad at basketball? No. Not really. He was once an OK player on a bad team. Last season, he was good for a solid 13.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game—his best numbers ever by quite a bit.
And he was rewarded with a two-year, $24 million contract in the offseason.
Now, he's a pretty useless player on a good team. As the Brooklyn Nets have climbed the Eastern Conference standings in 2013, Humphries' production has declined. He contributes 5.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. His minutes have dwindled from 34 per game to 18 per game.
Yet he's still getting paid, everyone knows his name, he gets into clubs for free, he was on one of the most popular reality shows on TV and girls like him because he used to be married to a Kardashian...
Pretty good deal for a middling forward.
It is not every day that one of the most talked-about players in the NFL gets a free pass for contributing absolutely nothing during the course of an entire season.
But it seems that Tim Tebow always gets a free pass. Nobody on his team likes him? It must be them, not him. He can't learn the playbook? Maybe the coaches didn't give him enough time to digest it. His presence on his team has been chalked up to a ginormous failure of an experiment? Hey, at least he tried.
By all indications, Tebow's short tenure with the New York Jets was an epic disaster. He barely ever saw the field, even when the starter couldn't get the job done, and the Jets finished a disappointing 6-10. Yet he still got paid to sit there on the bench and do nothing. Even though he was a total bust for New York and his mere presence is blamed for the team's utter lack of chemistry, his reputation hasn't taken a single hit.
Somehow, despite everything that has happened, he's still seen as the golden boy.
It's not often that a player who has proven so little at the professional level can remain so inexplicably beloved. He's going to be riding the magic of his legendary 2011 season forever. If nothing else, it will result in yet another team taking a senseless chance on him.
No matter what Joe Mauer does—no matter how short of expectations he falls—he will always be beloved in Minnesota.
Once upon a time, he was the linchpin of a young, explosive Twins team. He was the consensus best catcher in baseball, a Minnesota native who could have gotten millions from any team in the league but who never would have left good old Minneapolis because it was home. The fans loved him for that—and for the fact that he hit .327 in his first seven seasons in the league.
It only made sense, then, that in 2011, the Twins would sign him to a monstrous eight-year, $184 million deal. And just two seasons into it, 2018 looks very, very far away.
2011 was a disaster for Mauer. He had knee surgery in the 2010 offseason, he wasn't ready to go in time for 2011, he returned to the field just before the All-Star break and he continued to struggle with injury and illness for the duration of the season. In 2012, he rebounded with a .319 batting average, but even so—how could anyone look at his enormous contract, complete with a no-trade clause, and not worry that the Twins had strong-armed themselves for the next six years?
Still, no matter what, no one will ever fault Mauer for anything. He could hit .250 till 2018, and he'd still get a pat on the back from the hometown faithful.
It really pays to be well-liked.
Here is yet another instance of the Browns taking a risk on a quarterback who ended up evolving into nothing. And somehow, he too still has a job.
I guess that's what being mildly impressive at Notre Dame will do for you.
Brady Quinn had a decorated career in South Bend. He never won a Heisman, but he placed fourth once, and though his bowl record left something to be desired, he made a name for himself by winning the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Maxwell Award, among a couple of others.
That was all good enough to get him drafted in the first round—albeit far lower than most expected—and it was good enough to get him a five-year, $20.2 million deal with the Browns. That was kind of when the good times ended. Quinn couldn't solidify himself as the starter in Cleveland and bounced around to Denver (where he also failed as a starter) before finding a home in Kansas City.
How do you establish yourself as a relatively unimpressive pro quarterback prospect, yet you keep getting teams to give you money? It's beyond me. But Quinn has perfected the art.
And if football doesn't work out, he could always go back to modeling. Or he could just play a grown-up Biebs in the inevitable future movie.
Once upon a time, the Red Sox seemed to know what they were doing. And never did they seem to know better than in the 2010 and 2011 offseasons.
When you sign two of the most desired hitters and the best pitcher on the free-agent market, the expectation is that you are going to end up being pretty good at baseball. As we all know, though, that is certainly not what happened after Boston signed pitcher John Lackey, outfielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in 2010 and in 2011.
Landing Lackey was a risky move, at best. He was the best hurler on the free-agent market at the time, but his inconsistency and injury history still gave some pause—as it should have, considering he had two mediocre-to-terrible seasons for the Red Sox before missing the entirety of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Crawford and Gonzalez, however, should have been a slam dunk. They weren't, for reasons unknown. Maybe it was a lack of clubhouse chemistry, or maybe it was the pressure of playing in the lethal media market known as Boston. In any case, the two of them were shipped off to the Dodgers at the 2012 trade deadline. L.A. may not have ended up being a contender, but at the time, it was—so the two of them got to skip out on miserable Boston and join a (supposedly playoff ready) team. Sounds good to me.
Lackey, meanwhile, got to sit on his butt for a year while getting paid $15.25 million.
What we have learned from all of the busts listed here is that every time you are excited that a superstar becomes a free agent, you shouldn't be. The end.
For three of the last four seasons, Alfonso Soriano has been a disappointment. He hasn't been bad, but he certainly hasn't been as good as he was expected to be—at least at the plate—given how effective he was for about seven of his 15 seasons in baseball.
As most super-productive, base-stealing-machine, leadoff-hitter second basemen/outfielders are, Soriano was rewarded handsomely when he became a free agent following the 2006 season. The Cubs were the team that bit, and they inked him to a whopping eight-year, $136 million deal.
Since then, Soriano has hit .265. His steals have diminished. He's been bounced around the batting order. He is the highest-paid player on the team and is getting $18 million annually, making him virtually untradable even if he didn't have a no-trade clause. I don't even have to tell you how the Cubs have fared.
Life must be nice for him, even if he does have to be a part of a perennially terrible team.
The fact that Kwame Brown still has a job should be an inspiration to every overhyped draft pick who then spends the rest of his life as the butt of every NBA fan's jokes.
Brown was expected to be Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum and LeBron James all rolled into one when he declared for the draft straight out of high school in 2002. As expected, he was selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Wizards. He was a stellar high school prospect, so nobody was surprised.
Needless to say, things didn't exactly work out.
Guess how many teams Brown has played for in his 12-year career? Seven. Guess how many of those teams have been happy to have him? Probably zero. His best year came in 2003-04, when he averaged 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. His career averages, however, are 6.6 and 5.5.
This! From a former No. 1 overall selection.
But he hasn't given up—he still somehow has a job with the Sixers, for whom he averages 1.9 points and 3.4 rebounds in about 12 minutes per game. The fact that he has been able to make a living in the NBA is all the proof we need that anything is possible.
There was a time when the Cleveland Indians looked like they were going to be one of the biggest threats in Major League Baseball for a long, long time. They had what looked like one of the best one-two punches at the top of their pitching rotation, and they had what seemed like one of the best young hitters to come around for years.
Well, that didn't work out.
CC Sabathia is now a Yankee, Fausto Carmona now has a losing record and can't even solidify himself as a starter and Grady Sizemore is—where is Sizemore?
When he debuted for Cleveland, he seemed to have everything going for him. He had a catchy name, he quickly evolved into a fan favorite and most importantly, he could hit. Or so we thought. In 2006—his second full season in the majors—he was selected as an All-Star for the first time, hitting a career-high .290 with a league-leading 53 doubles.
And then he appeared on the cover of SI in May 2007, and it was all downhill from there.
He couldn't stay healthy. He had a zillion surgeries. The coffee cup photo happened. Yet somehow, as recently as last season, the free agent got the Indians to pay him $5 million—without even appearing in a single game.
Sizemore, teach us your ways.
How could you resist heaping massive amounts of money on a guy who was twice the recipient of the Rolaids Relief Man Award? It's totally understandable.
There was once a time when Heath Bell was good for almost 50 saves per season. There was once a time when he was consistent, when it was a given that you weren't going to score on him in the ninth inning.
Those days are no longer.
In the beginning, Bell's story was inspiring. He signed with the Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998, and six years later, he hit the majors. Once he was traded to San Diego, his life truly begun: Over the next five seasons, he would register a 2.54 ERA with 134 saves and 389 K's. Between 2009-11, he would register at least 42 saves per season and was an All-Star all three years.
In the past two seasons, however, Bell has played for the Miami Marlins and, now, the Arizona Diamondbacks. He made just 19 saves last season—less than half of what the Marlins were expecting—and allowed career-highs in hits and runs.
But before he could make it clear his career was on the downward trajectory, he got the Marlins to agree to pay him $27 million over three years. And that's all that matters.
A guy who was once an almost-Super Bowl champion and was almost beloved in Philadelphia (what a feat!) has fallen from great heights.
But even he still has it pretty good.
For a while, Donovan McNabb had people fooled into believing he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. It was a realistic assumption. He did, after all, compile a 92-49-1 record from 1999-2009, and he took the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2005, with four straight NFC East championships and five trips to the conference title game.
Yet he could never quite get the job done, and for that reason alone, he quickly transitioned from hero to pariah. You know things aren't going well for you when people like you less than Michael Vick.
Now, his life is devoid of pressure. All he has to do is talk about football on the NFL Network. He doesn't have to get on the field and play, he doesn't have to make up excuses for his headcase receivers, and most importantly, he doesn't have to live in Philly.
McNabb's life is great.
In the first seven full seasons Vernon Wells spent in Major League Baseball, he compiled a .283 average with a .332 on-base percentage. Twice in that span, he was named an All-Star. Twice, he won a Gold Glove.
So what has happened in the four full seasons since then? I have a guess. As do most people.
Wells spent a long time trying to establish himself as one of the most formidable center fielders in baseball. For a while, he succeeded in getting people to believe he was. And most importantly, he got the Blue Jays to believe it at the conclusion of the 2007 season, when they agreed to pay him $126 million over seven years.
Now, entering the final couple of seasons of his contract—when, mind you, he is owed $9.5 million and $18.6 million respectively—Wells is playing for the Yankees. The Blue Jays, apparently, got tired of his inconsistency and dwindling numbers at the end of the 2010 season. It seems they unloaded him at the perfect time: He hit .222 in two seasons with the Angels before they moved him to New York.
$9.5 million to hit just over .200 on a team so riddled with injuries that nobody even expects you to do anything—and you get to live in one of the best cities in the world? Must be nice.
We know Mark Sanchez isn't a bad athlete (or, at least, we choose to believe he's not a bad athlete). But he's been doing a pretty good job pretending over the last couple of years.
For some reason, the New York Jets have faith in their quarterback, despite all of the evidence over the last two years that they absolutely should not. He played the Jets out of the postseason in 2011 before experiencing some kind of mental meltdown in 2012 that resulted in a 6-9 record and his being replaced by the third-stringer.
But instead of just admitting it was a mistake to hand Sanchez a five-year, $58 million contract at the end of the 2011 season, the Jets just will not. They will not admit defeat. They will stand by their hapless QB until Jets fans have no choice but to kidnap him for the good of the franchise.
And in the meantime, Sanchez—and his second-worst-in-the-league passer rating—will continue to make upwards of $8 million per year until 2016 while living the high life, dating celebrities and pretending he doesn't notice that he's an embarrassment to football.
If someone gave you the choice, would you ever want to be Alex Rodriguez? Probably not. That would entail pumping yourself full of banned substances while steadfastly insisting you are clean, staring at a centaur portrait of yourself and knowing that Derek Jeter and everyone else in Major League Baseball hates you.
But in spite of all that, A-Rod still has a pretty good life.
First and foremost, you have to look at the funds. In 2007, he got the Yankees to agree to pay him a stifling $275 million over 10 years, marking the richest contract in baseball history. The previous record holder? A-Rod, who signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2000.
Those contracts, of course, came long before George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman & Co. knew better. That was before The Slap, the Mitchell Report, the Sit-Down with Peter Gammons and, most recently, Biogenesis of America.
A-Rod is a buffoon. He never says the right thing, he never seems to do the right thing and nobody seems to like him. But still, it's probably hard for him to look at all of that cash and regret anything.
Much like Tim Tebow, JaMarcus Russell will be riding his collegiate success to the bank for years to come. Just like he has been since 2007.
Getting drafted first overall—or even in the first round—certainly doesn't guarantee of success. Just look at Russell for proof. After leading LSU to a Sugar Bowl victory in 2007, he declared for the draft and was projected to be an instant success for a variety of reasons, his success in the SEC and his size included. To nobody's surprise, he was selected with the first overall pick, signing the richest rookie contract in history potentially worth $61 million over six years, with $32 million guaranteed.
Unfortunately, the hapless Raiders wasted their money. Nobody was all that worried when Russell went 0-1 in his only start of his rookie season, but from 2008-09, it became readily apparent that superstardom wasn't in the cards. He went 7-17 over the next two years before being released and becoming an unrestricted free agent. Since then? Crickets.
Now, even after making $32 million for doing nothing, he's still trying to make a comeback. First comes the weight loss, then comes the opportunity—and the latest word on the street is that "there's a good chance he gets a second shot."
Maybe he can buy another fur with his signing bonus.